When I was in high school I read a lot about India and it’s rapid development and wanted to visit to see what the country was like. Over time this desire faded to the point that I really had no desire to visit at all. However, with the start of a new job I knew it was only a matter of time before I was going to be making my first trip.
That time has come and I’m currently wrapping up my first visit to the country.
I set my expectations low, but I’m not really sure why. I suppose I had visions of extreme poverty, oppressive heat, and cows wandering the streets. Of course, these are not that far off from the reality of much of India, but I’ve found the slice of Bangalore I’ve been exploring to be just like any other major metropolitan area with a bit more car horn blaring.
I still believe we went the long way around the world to get to Bengaluru (what Bangalore is supposed to officially be called). I flew to D.C. and then on to Frankfurt where I had a few hours before my flight into Bangalore. All together it was about 24 hours of travel with 18 of it being in the air. Leaving Nashville on Thursday afternoon I arrived to India at 1 a.m. on Saturday.
After clearing customs we were greeted by our driver holding a sign for us and were greeted by surprisingly cool temperatures. I’ve come to find out that Bangalore has the best weather of all of India according to the people who live here. I believe them.
The drive into the city took about an hour and was full of detours and some interesting driving. Overall the road situation is not any crazier than some things I’ve seen in other countries like Taiwan and Ecuador. However, I don’t want to get behind the wheel here anytime soon.
Our first hotel was a local Indian chain that had mixed reviews online. It was our preferred hotel through work and was allegedly decent. After a smooth check-in process we proceeded to our rooms and knew things were not going to be good. The hallway reeked of smoke and our rooms had a lingering odor as well. Additionally the floors were noticeable sticky. Thanks to the hotel provided slippers I was able to walk around without being super grossed out, but it was not a tenable situation in my book. There are many other complaints I could talk about, but long story short, we were able to move up the road to The Gateway Hotel and did not look back. The Gateway Hotel is part of the the Taj chain. If you think of Taj as Hilton then the Gateway would be a Hampton/Hilton Garden Inn. The staff has been great, the rooms are clean, and it’s quiet! If you are looking at hotels anywhere in India I highly recommended the Taj brand!
After getting some sleep I met up with the group to have some adventures. We took a cab to the mall in search of SIM cards and ended up at Garuda Mall. Inside it reminded me of the Mall de Los Andes (Ambato, Ecuador) just poorly built. There were quite a few nice shops, but the mall itself needed some love. It is apparently undergoing a renovation. Our attempt to find SIM cards there was a failure, but we did get some great cappuccinos, bottled water, and a delicious meal at an Indian restaurant on the top floor. Not knowing what anything on the menu was besides naan I ordered a vegetable rice dish that was delicious, but SUPER spicy. I assume it’s probably medium heat to the locals, but I thought I was going to start breathing fire.
The search for a SIM card took us to Brigade Rd, a very crowded shopping district in central Bangalore. Unable to find the AirTel shop we took a side street to a little mobile phone shack where folks recharge their SIMS. Once their we were able to procure some AirCel SIM cards (apparently the worst carrier in India) for 16 bucks each. It included all the talk and texting we would need for the whole trip. It was especially handy that they were able to activate the cards instantly when it was supposed to take 48 hours. Moral of the story, always trust shady looking cell phone shacks in developing countries when looking for quick phone access.
Saturday evening we were quite exhausted and returned to the hotel (still the subpar one at this point) for dinner. Dinner was actually not too shabby. It was a buffet with numerous Indian dishes that I was unable to identify. I tried several and left content.
Sunday we had hoped to make the trek to Mysore to see the palace, but this didn’t quite work out as it requires more planning than we had done. Instead we went to the Botanic Gardens which were a bit sadder than I had hoped. In their defense we had JUST missed the Independence Day Floral extravaganza that was housed in an impressive Victorian glass pavilion. After the gardens we went to a tourist trap shop to browse for souvenirs, but I didn’t buy anything.
Later we went to ISKON temple which was an interesting mix of religious piety and market. Once inside you snake your way through in a forced fashion reminiscent of an IKEA. It was a very unique experience from taking off your shoes at the beginning to getting a free prasadam at the end. We were quite hungry after our excursions and decided to stop by the Orion Mall for lunch. I was lured in by Zara, but my two traveling companions were also eager to shop and eat. Continuing my tradition of jacket buying at Zara’s while traveling I picked up a simple black jacket for 50 USD. It was a MUCH better deal than the Euro price listed. After exploring the shops we grabbed a meal and relaxed. After the mall we stopped by the Bangalore Palace which is quite small and really not considered a destination by most locals. We could not go on the tour inside as we were all out of rupees! It was for the best as we were all quite tired and ready to get back to the hotel.
The work week is not really that glamourous. I’ve loved meeting all the team members here and the office itself is quite pleasant. However, the day just consists of work and dinner. We’ve definitely had some great meals, but I’ll highlight those in a different post.